Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Bye Bye Boland

In February of 1988, Mitch Ogulewicz received an invitation to attend a secret meeting at the Salem Croft Inn in East Brookfield. The invitation came from Mitch’s friend State Representative Ken Lemanski (D-Chicopee). When Mitch arrived at the Inn he found himself at a gathering with Lemanski and various political operatives from throughout the Second Congressional District.

For nearly four decades, the Second District had been represented in Congress by Edward P. Boland (at left with Silvio Conte, Charles Ryan and Ted Kennedy). A New Deal Democrat in the mold of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Boland was a popular and powerful congressman who held the number two position on the House Appropriations Committee, one of the most important committees in Congress because all spending bills at some point had to pass through it. That meant not only that Boland was in a uniquely effective position to attach special funding for his district to various bills, but also enabled him to “horse-trade” with other members of congress for legislation he wanted for his district. The only significant blot on his career was his failure to use that influence successfully to save the Springfield Armory from closing in 1968.

Ogulewicz himself had an encounter with Boland that forever made a positive impression on him, even though at the time Mitch was working to remove Boland from office. In 1968 Boland faced the stiffest political challenge of his career when Mayor Charles V. Ryan ran against him in the Democratic primary. Mitch had a close political relationship with Ryan going back almost to his childhood, so on election day Mitch (who was on leave from the service) was standing in front of Armory Street School, campaigning for Ryan. Boland arrived at the polling place and began shaking hands. When he reached Mitch he noticed the Ryan button prominently displayed on his lapel. Instead of moving on, Boland stopped, shook Mitch’s hand and told him that he was glad to see a young person participating in politics even if he was not a supporter. It was the kind of unnecessary kindness and sincere interest in people that Boland was well known for, and in the cutthroat world of Springfield politics such deference to an opponent was especially unique.

Yet, in later years some critics complained that Boland had served too long. By 1988, there was grumbling in some quarters that Boland should step aside and let a new generation of Democrats take over. Many had expected Boland to retire in 1986, when his close friend and former roommate Tip O’Neil had retired. Boland probably would have, except that congressional hearings were beginning the following year on the Iran-Contra scandal, in which members of the Reagan Administration were accused of funneling money illegally to rebel groups struggling to overthrow the Marxist government of Nicaragua. Congress had restricted the amount of money that could be spent on this effort in large part due to the fear that the United States was risking becoming involved in a Vietnam type conflict. It was Edward Boland who had written the restricting legislation the Reagan Administration had violated, commonly referred to as “The Boland Amendments,” and Boland wanted another term in order to participate in the hearings.

So 1988 looked to be the year Boland was likely to step down, and political maneuvering of all sorts was going on behind the scenes. Representative Lemanski, State Senator Martin Reilly and Springfield Mayor Richard Neal were regarded as the leading contenders to be Boland’s successor, although by the time Mitch attended the secret meeting in East Brookfield, Reilly had already been eliminated by an alleged banking scandal that had been featured prominently by the Springfield Newspapers. Although eventually cleared of all the ethics charges, the process of clearing his name took a long time and in the meantime Reilly’s political career was ruined.

Lemanski told those gathered in East Brookfield that he had commissioned a poll to determine his chances of being elected to Congress. The results he received showed that it was a toss-up between himself and Richard Neal and Lemanski believed that the statistics suggested that he could win. The problem was that it was impossible to openly campaign until Boland made clear his intentions. To run without an official announcement of Boland’s retirement would be perceived as rudely trying to force the Congressman’s hand, something that would alienate the Boland backers Lemanski would need to win.

Lemanski told those gathered at the Inn that he had spoken privately with Boland himself, who told him that he was uncertain of his plans. However, Boland promised him that once he had made up his mind, he would call Lemanski and give him advance warning of his intentions before alerting the media. Thus there was the need for Lemanski to keep things quiet for the time being, but Lemanski wanted supporters like Ogulewicz, who would be key players in his congressional campaign, to know the situation in advance so that they could act quickly if Boland tipped him off that he was retiring. With all participants sworn to secrecy, the meeting at the Salem Croft Inn dispersed.

And then nothing happened. Weeks passed, and then months passed, without a word from the Congressman on whether or not he would seek re-election. Talk of who would succeed him began to fade, as the deadline approached for candidates to file for the race. With no word from Boland, it began to become a universal assumption that Boland would seek one more term. Indeed, it was quickly becoming too late for any successor to raise the money and mount a campaign. Never having heard anything from Boland as promised, Lemanski simply put his own political ambitions on hold until 1990.

Then one morning, just days before the filing deadline, the telephone rang. It was Congressman Boland. He told Lemanski that he would announce his retirement to the media at a press conference to be held that afternoon on Hungry Hill.

The entire Second District was shocked, and the air was filled with unanswerable questions. Why had Boland taken so long to make his intentions known? Who could run a credible campaign with such short time remaining? For that matter, who could even get on the ballot with such short time remaining to gather signatures? The whole thing seemed baffling and completely out of character for someone like Boland to behave in such a way that left every prospective contender in such a lurch.

Then as Mitch Ogulewicz was returning from the Boland press conference that afternoon to attend a meeting at City Hall, he was startled to see on cars in the parking lot bumper stickers that read “Neal for Congress.” Boland’s official announcement had barely been made an hour earlier and yet already there were cars with Neal bumper stickers? How did Neal know enough to print them in advance? In the coming days there would be further revelations, such as the discovery that Neal had already quietly gathered a huge campaign chest and was prepared to outspend everybody. Again, people asked how could he have known to do so?

The full circumstances behind the retirement of Edward Boland will probably never be known. Some say Boland simply woke up one morning and suddenly decided to step down. Others say that powerful political forces backing Richard Neal finally forced him off of the political stage against his will. All anyone knows for certain is that when the dust cleared, Neal was the only candidate left standing. Neither Lemanski nor anyone else was in any position to run against him at that late date, and so a fringe candidate from the communist party became Neal’s only opposition.

As Neal prepared to claim the Congressional seat that had somehow seemingly landed on his lap, his departure was setting off a whole series of political intrigues and backroom dramas at City Hall. For Mitch Ogulewicz, and for all of Springfield, a period of unprecedented political upheaval was about to unfold.

These videos are from a City Council meeting held one hot night in August of 1988.

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